New research published today in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society reports that children born to mothers who drank a lot of sugary drinks during pregnancy may be at an increased risk of developing asthma during childhood.
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With the increasing prevalence of childhood asthma since the 1980s, there has been a concerted effort to identify factors that could be the cause of the observed rise in the number of children developing asthma. Since caloric intake from added sugars, most notably in sugary drinks, has also increased over this time frame, researchers have been evaluating whether there is a link between the two.
It is already known that obesity, for which excessive sugar intake is a causal factor, is a risk factor for developing asthma but there are also indications that high levels of fructose can directly impact lung function by causing inflammation.
Project Viva followed 1,068 mother-child pairs in a longitudinal study based in Eastern Massachusetts to investigate whether there is a link between fructose intake and the development of childhood asthma.
Previous studies have linked intake of high fructose corn syrup sweetened beverages with asthma in school children, but there is little information about when during early development exposure to fructose might influence later health”.
Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, senior research associate at Harvard Medical School
Mothers participating in the study completed questionnaires, which included questions about their consumption of fizzy drinks and fruit juices, after the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. They completed a further questionnaire, this time about their child's diet and consumption of sodas and fruit drinks in early childhood (average child age at time of evaluation was 3.3 years). The information provided in the questionnaires was used by researchers to calculate fructose intake.
The incidence of asthma in the children at age 7 to 9 years was determined from the mothers' reports of receiving a diagnosis of asthma and use of wheezing or asthma medication in the past year.
In mid-childhood, 19% of the children had asthma and it was shown that a child aged 7 to 9 years was more than 60% more likely to have asthma if their mother had high fructose intake during pregnancy than those whose mothers consumed low levels of fructose during pregnancy.
Similarly, children who consumed large amounts of fructose during early childhood were 64% more likely to have asthma in mid-childhood than those with low fructose consumption.
Although definitive conclusions cannot be drawn from this observational study, Ms Rifas-Shiman commented “avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy and in early childhood could be one of several ways to reduce the risk of childhood asthma.”
American Thoracic Society. Press release " Consuming Sugary Drinks During Pregnancy May Increase Asthma Risk in Mid-Childhood". 8 December 2107. Available at http://www.thoracic.org